(This article is a continuation of the previous article, “7 MORE Reasons Why Your Query Was Rejected”)
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7. Submit to the Guidelines
Editors are picky, especially busy ones. They do not suffer fools. How do they do this? By leaving traps and highly-specific directions in the submission guidelines, which can include how you structure the subject-line, including a keyword to indicate that you’ve fully read the guidelines.
In other words, if it says to write “pineapple,” you better not write “pina colada.”
6. Be Like a Zen Vacuum Cleaner
I’ve got a joke for you:
What did the Buddhist monk say to the vacuum cleaner?
“You have too many attachments.”
It may seem like common sense, but attaching a document along with your query is a surefire way to get rejected, destined to spend it’s life in the spam folder purgatory. With Trojan horses, viruses, worms, and whatever else the Four Horsemen of the Email Apocalypse can throw at us, editors have good reason to reject you outright, even if your intentions are pure. Think about it: one virus spreading its voodoo on a hard drive can erase all of the effort and hard work an editor (and contributors) put in because of a corrupt file or encrypted bug ravaging the purely-digital world we live in.
If your query MUST have an attachment to give it oomph, ask to send it along in a follow-up email. This goes for already-written content that you’re looking to sell/resell.
Lesson: DON’T ATTACH ANYTHING.
5. Adding Insult to Insularity
Some publications pay lip service to being open to unsolicited submissions, and so off goes another query destined for foreign and distant email lands. But guess what? You may be rejected outright. Perusing the contents, you may notice that a lot of the entries are written by a stable of writers; this is particularly true of college-affiliated newspapers with unspoken addendums to their submission guidelines: “no outsiders.”
I’m here to say that it’s not your fault in the same way that sitting at that particular table in high school was always off-limits. Either your name doesn’t carry enough social clout at the moment or you aren’t a recognizable writer to new eyes, but the cliquishness that pervades publications isn’t your fault.
I’ll say that again in my greatest Robin Williams Goodwill Hunting-era voice: it’s not your fault. Now move on to greener pastures that aren’t as discriminating.
4. Budget Won’t Budge
Your brave query moves through the fallopian byways of the Internet, ousts the competition, and sets up a bivouac to the egg that is the publication of your desires. The only problem? The publication doesn’t have nourishment to blossom into a full-fledged article ready to scream into the world.
In other words, they’re broke.
However, this might not be a total rejection. Some editors may try to offer you the chance to write for exposure or minimal payments. It’s up to you to determine whether these are sufficient reasons to not take your query-business elsewhere. I don’t know about you, but I write for a number of reasons, and not all of them are money… but it certainly plays a large part in my decision-making process. You should use your discrimination wisely.
(Okay, I’ll admit that all the flowery language was really an excuse to compare spermatozoa to a query. Happy now?)
3. Dude, Where’s Your Publication?
Is there nothing worse than getting “radio silence” from a publication? Don’t pull out your hair just yet. As with most of the reasons that we’ve listed here, there’s more than meets the eye. Publications that may have started with full enthusiasm often end up becoming a burden to those who created them. Hence, they don’t publish regularly despite their best intentions, or worse, they fold.
Your query? Probably lost.
I’d hate to admit it, but this is an all-too-common problem among publications. As I write this, I just found out my query for “Bar Etiquette: Tossing Bar Peanuts on the Ground” is probably being swept up by some tired bartender. So it goes.
2. Queries Without Content
It’s useful to review the definition of what a query actually is. Luckily, our friend Dictionary.com is here to help:
noun, plural queries.
1. a question; an inquiry.
2. mental reservation; doubt.
3. Printing: a question mark (?), especially as added on a manuscript, proof sheet, or the like, indicating doubt as to some print in the text
4. an inquiry from a writer to an editor of a magazine, newspaper, etc., regarding the acceptability of or interest in an idea for an article, news story, or the like: usually presented in the form of a letter that outlines or describes the projected piece.
If you didn’t notice, a definition #4 pertains to our industry, but the other ones are relevant as well. Essentially, a query is a question, but #4 provides answer to a question. That question is:
“What the heck is this about?”
If you get skimpy on the details of the query, it may convey to the editor that you a) don’t understand how freelance writing works, or b) didn’t provide enough information to convey your idea. As a rule, it’s easier for an editor to reject your query for not being up to snuff than it is to accept an anorexic one.
On the other hand, some queries I’ve submitted provided too much information, only to have an editor narrow the idea down to a more reasonable standard. For instance, one query I submitted promised not only a mammoth 2,000 article, but also a map of the subject matter, interviews/pull-quotes with the major players on the scene, accompanying photographs, and a sidebar that focused on the monetary value in regards to construction, content, and real estate value.
That subject? Little Free Libraries.
(I’ll show myself out now…)
1. Stepping on Toes
There are parts of publications that “belong” to staff members. If you’ve sent a query and received either a curt reply or none at all, you may have overstepped your boundaries as a freelancer. Editorials, in particular, are a no-go zone, as are columns and other regularly recurring sections (i.e. opinion pieces, music reviews, etc.).
This is why you should familiarize yourself (like “Wrong Market” above) with the particular publication that you’re submitting a query to. Your submission inadvertently shows that you were not familiar with how the publication operates. While this may not be a fatal flaw, you may want to change your approach in the future or wait a period of time until your faux pas is forgotten.
In this modern “gig economy,” don’t forget that job security for writers is becoming more and more a thing of the past; therefore, representing a threat to someone’s position may get your work automatically rejected by default.
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When I said “don’t take it personally” in the introduction of “7 Reasons Why Your Query Was Rejected”, I lied.
You SHOULD take it personally. Steel sharpens steel, as the saying goes. If you haven’t developed a thick skin yet, that’s a mandatory requirement for being a successful freelance writer. Rejection is part of the process towards honing your freelance career and it is guaranteed to happen. In fact, rejection gives you a sense of just what type of writing sells versus your preconceived idea of how the writing market operates. The more you learn about the business of writing, the easier you’ll navigate the turbulent seas of commercial writing. And the more you know, the less heartache AND the better chances that your query will be accepted. That’s the goal after all, isn’t it?